We already knew that Survivor 41 would be different from the seasons that came before. Its shorter survival period of only 26 days has been largely criticized, but host and producer Jeff Probst has promised that this season will be the craziest yet. To be fair, he says that every season, but this time we really want to believe him!
One of the main criticisms of Survivor in recent years is that the addition of so many twists risks the show compromising its integrity. But so far in Season 41, it seems like producers have been able to add some wild changes that are all in the service of making it harder for players to outwit, outplay, and outlast each other.
So, what are all the new twists and changes?
Twist #1: 26 Days
We were well aware of this twist before the premiere of Survivor 41 aired, but now we’ve learned a bit more about what the change in number of total days at camp means for actual gameplay.
With 13 days cut from the game (to account for the players' quarantine period upon arriving to Fiji), producers had to find a way to make this season equally, if not more, challenging than the rest. So right at the beginning of the first episode, Jeff explains that this season is going to be more intense than ever.
“We’ll increase the pace,” he warns. “These players will go 26 days, which means they’ll have to hit the ground running because there will be nowhere to hide and no time to hide. Plus, small tribes, no rice, penalties for losing, and you’ve gotta earn everything. And even then, the unexpected dangerous twist can take it all away.”
We see this when the losing tribes in the immunity challenge not only have to go to tribal council, but must also give up the flint they’ve earned. In Survivor, as we know, fire means life, so not having consistent fire will make things very challenging.
Twist #2: The Beware Advantage Hidden Immunity Idol
We first see this advantage when Jeff hides it at the Yase camp. In Episode 2, Xander finds one and must decide whether or not he wants to take the risk of opening it without even knowing what it is. He learns that it could be an immunity idol, but members of the other two tribes must find one as well.
Until then, Xander has no vote and no power at tribal council. So how will he know if someone from the other tribes has found it? Well, he has to say a goofy phrase at each immunity challenge: "I truly believe that butterflies are dead relatives saying hi."
He has to say this until the other tribes respond with their own goofy phrases: "I'm as confused as a goat on astroturf," and "I didn't realize this till now ... broccoli is just a bunch of small trees." Brad finds it in Episode 3, but the Lavu advantage is still hidden.
Twist #3: An Immediate Challenge on the Island
As Jeff explains in his cold open, Survivor 41 contestants have to earn even basic necessities. The first challenge starts while players are still on the boat, which is normal, but what’s not normal is that the losing tribes need to earn the rest of their necessities right away. When they get to their islands, they’re given the choice between “Savvy or Sweat.”
In “Savvy,” the team would work together as a tribe to solve a visual triangle riddle, and in “Sweat,” only two tribe members would be forced to carry buckets of water to bigger buckets. Both tribes choose “Sweat,” which gives big “Ethan carrying the logs up the mountain” vibes and allows us to learn a lot about the players more quickly than we're used to.
Twist #4: Protect or Risk Your Vote
The next big twist comes when one person is chosen from each tribe to go on a mysterious adventure. Survivor fanboy JD, ex-NFL player Danny McCray, and 20-year-old Xander are chosen for the job. They meet at the beginning of a winding path and are told to “get to know each other” as they walk.
At the end, they each need to make a separate choice: protect or risk their vote. It’s a choice that game theorists would call the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”: if they all choose to risk, then they all lose their vote.
But if even one person protects their vote, the players who risk theirs get an advantage. Danny chooses to protect his vote, and Xander and J.D. both take the risk, which ultimately pays off.
After the immunity challenge in Episode 2, Lavu can send any player from Yase on a secret mission. They can then choose one of their own to do the same. They pick Evvie, and Deshawn volunteers himself. They are faced with the same dilemma, but anticipating what it is, Evvie makes a strategic move to make a deal and protect her vote, allowing Deshawn to risk his.
Twist #5: Second Beware Advantage
In Episode 3, Tiffany finds a different Beware Advantage. She learns that she'll have to sneak off on a boat at night, which will bring her to face another decision. She doesn't yet know what the advantage may bring, but if she fails to go on the boat, she will lose her vote at the next tribal council. Brad and Sydney then find the same Beware Advantage as Tiffany.
When they all sneak off their respective islands, they discover a similar prisoner's dilemma. In this case, they're faced with the decision to choose a tribal advantage, a tarp, or get a "steal a vote" advantage. If they all choose the tarp, they all get the tarp.
If they all choose "steal a vote," they all lose their vote. And if the vote is split, whoever chooses the tarp gets nothing, and whoever chooses "steal a vote" gets the advantage.
Similar to the "protect or risk your vote" twist, this one could have resulted in a few different outcomes. Tiffany and Brad both choose to steal a vote, while Sydney knowingly plays it safe — she'd rather protect her vote than come back with nothing at all.
Twist #5: Shot in the Dark Die
This twist comes into play right before the immunity challenge. Jeff explains that every player gets a die that they can use once in the game. If they feel they are in danger of being voted out, they can choose to use their die, which gives them a 1-in-6 chance of safety.
It adds a whole other layer to tribal council and might even change how people vote. This could be a total fail, but we’re expecting fun new strategies to come into play, so we’re eager to see how the shot in the dark die works in practice.
Of course, we can’t go without mentioning one of the biggest changes: There’s no more “Come on in, guys!” Jeff and Ricard decided for the group that “guys” is no longer an appropriate term for a group of all genders (even though Evvie, a queer woman, says it's fine by her).
Twitter was naturally up in arms about this, but true fans know that Survivor grows and changes through the years.
Tune in to see more twists on Survivor Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.